ERF 20th Annual Conference on “Social justice and economic development”

Economic Research Forum (ERF) kick-started its 20th Annual Conference in Cairo yesterday, March 22nd, featuring an impressive line-up of speakers. In light of the significant political transformations happening in the region, this year’s conference is devoted to the theme “Social Justice and Economic Development”. Social justice is widely considered to be one of the main factors behind popular uprisings in the MENA region; Arab societies witnessed an increasing concentration of wealth, unequal opportunities and rising corruption. The conference is addressing social justice with a special focus on what social justice might mean, how different societies were able to bring it about, and the lessons-learned from these experiences for Arab countries, particularly the ones in transition.

Speakers during ERF annual conference

Alternative perspectives on social justice

The opening and first plenary session discussed the alternative perspectives on social justice. Following the opening remarks of Ahmed Galal (ERF Managing Director), and Abdlatif Al-Hamad (Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), François Bourguignon (Paris School of Economics) discussed the empirical and factual side of inequality in his presentation entitled ‘Inequality trends in the world: Common forces, idiosyncrasies and measurement errors’. When comparing the patterns of inequality in the developed world with that of the MENA region, Bourguignon shows that two thirds of developed countries witnessed an increasing inequality in the two decades between 1980 and 2000; including Sweden and the Netherlands, as do countries in Africa and Latin America. The striking intelligence he shared is that only the MENA region ‘shows surprising stability’.

Watch our interview with François Bourguignon


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Sparking and catching fire

This post was written by Dr. Roksana Bahramitash

ERF workshop on “Women Economic Empowering the MENA Region”

ERF workshop on “Women Economic Empowering the MENA Region”

The world of politics and political campaign is consumed by women’s civil rights; from Quebec leading provincial campaign passing the Quebec Charter of Values, which bans hijab to defend women’s right, to Muslim Brotherhood conservative faction who is campaigning for more traditional role for women. Women’s civil rights remain at the center of attention.

Yet in a world where the poorest 40 percent account for less than 5 percent of global income and gender gap remains a serious issue throughout the world, so little is mentioned about women’s socio-economic rights. The issue is more acute in the MENA region, which has the lowest female labor force participation rates and the highest ratios of female to male unemployment rate.

As a woman from the region, I am always shocked when I travel through the region and make my way in an around the poor neighborhoods; where women walk in and out of markets and shops to buy their basic food. What shakes me is a simple calculation between the prices of basic food and that of the minimum wages, I am sure this calculation has to be behind what women can or cannot afford as they continue to be the one who puts food on the table. In those circumstances, calculating household income against the prices of basic commodities, food, rent, medical bills, utilities and transport seems like an impossible job. It just does not make sense; people’s income and the prices of their basics fails elementary math. The question is how does the household balance the budget. And of course many don’t and end up in absolute poverty.

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Women economic empowerment in the MENA region

This post was written by Hoda El Enbaby (Researcher at ERF)

Data shows that women make up 70% of the world’s poor. They do not get the same opportunities as men, and get less pay for the same amount of work. In Egypt for instance, female unemployment is four times more than male unemployment. The reasons behind these facts remain to be unclear.  Are women unprivileged in our societies just because of their gender? To what extent are women disadvantaged? Do men and women have the same economic opportunities or get the same chances? Has the Arab Spring worsened or improved women’s status in the region?  In order to answer some of these questions and fill the research gap in this topic, the Economic Research Forum (ERF) carried out a call for proposals on “Women economic empowerment in the MENA region“, with the support of the International Development Research Center (IDRC). Under this call, ERF has selected seven proposals tackling various areas of the topic.

The authors of those papers will be given the opportunity to present their first drafts during an ERF workshop that will be held tomorrow, November 29th, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Believing in the importance of women’s empowerment in the MENA region, the LSE’s Middle East Centre will be hosting the workshop, giving the authors the chance to discuss their findings with experts in the area and to receive feedback on  their studies.

This workshop marks the first ERF workshop to be held in London. It is meant to be the beginning of cross-regional social debate regarding gender issues and the economic empowerment of women.

Stay tuned for more posts from this workshop!

Human rights, citizenship and the Arab spring

“Human rights” in the Middle East is a very problematic issue. However, the state of human rights differs from one state to another. Some states within the region do have a record of progressive understanding of human rights and its implementations as the case of Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco.

On the other hand, there are some states within the region that do encounter grave violations due to authoritarian regimes and repressive measures that led to diminished social activism within the society.

Flickr User: Essam Sharaf (CC)

In 2010, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region witnessed unprecedented waves of protests; commonly referred to as the “Arab Spring”. The chain reaction of such a phenomena demanded thorough socio-economic change and in-depth political transformation. People in many countries of the region called for respect for their human rights, an end to repression, new social contract built on representation and Citizenship rights.

Citizenship within the state was always a controversial issue, in terms of citizens and citizenship concept as stated by Aristotle, “a citizenship is one who shares both shares in the government and also in his turn submits to be governed; their condition, it is true, is different in different states; the best is that in which a man is enabled to choose and to persevere in a course of virtue during his whole life, both in his public and private state”.

This in return would clarify two main aspects of citizenship. The first of which would be a “legal” definition establishing what would be called a formal relationship between the people vis-a-vis the government and secondly that role a person has to play in a certain manner that entails virtue. Furthermore, this conceptualization of citizenship entails distinguishing between what would be considered as public and private spheres that touches on the dichotomy of state and civil society.

Ideas of citizenship are thus derived from the theoretical framework of liberalism. In the political form of liberal theory, it ascribes to individual’s power in their own lives and an equal say in how the government is run.

The impoverished societies of the Middle East need more plurality in terms of ideas, less repression of peaceful dissent, more political participation, and more institutions that would in a way channel popular desire for change, and for a better future. This poses serious complexities when coming to think of it in the context of the MENA region. States within the MENA region are deformed since inception, fragmented, and carry a colonial heritage and colonial political institutions; states that deal with citizens as subjects, and carry among them the traits of authoritarianism.

I do believe that governments within the region for sure have roles to play in terms of negating some paranoid and prejudiced beliefs within the society. Education along with social activism would surely allow for a better perception of what has to be a relation between all citizens within the state.



“Corruption and Economic Development”: Focus of ERF’s 18th Annual Conference

Corruption is unethical. It is often associated with violence, crime and, in extreme cases, may result in popular revolts, a fact experienced by this region first hand. This year the Economic Research forum (ERF) Conference on Corruption and Economic Development will be held on March 25-27 2012 in Cairo. The conference comes at a time when MENA region is undergoing significant political transformation and many sociopolitical changes.

The definition of corruption and the extent to which corruption is the product of the rules governing economic transactions will be discussed at the plenary sessions, which will feature renowned economists and opinion makers.

Follow proceedings from the ERF conference on the ERF blog. Social Media coverage will be provided by the GDNet team.


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